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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Micmacs à tire-larigot (2009)

I just returned from an outing at the Magnolia theater here in Dallas, where I saw Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest whimsical fantasy, Micmacs. It's a typical Jeunet film in its use of a colorful ensemble, surreal imagery, and mechanical/industrial set pieces. While it's not as dark as Delicatessen or as poignant as Amelie or A Very Long Engagement, Micmacs manages to be one of Jeunet's funniest films.

Our hero Bazil (Dany Boon) is a video store clerk who has never quite recovered from the death of his father, a soldier who was killed by a land mine. One night, as he sits watching "The Big Sleep" and lip-synching all of the dialogue, he is shot in the head by a stray bullet. He ends up in the hospital, and when he awakens he has lost his job and his home. His life decimated, he finds himself on the streets, miming and entertaining pedestrians for pocket change. He is eventually taken in by a group of eccentrics who have made a home in a gigantic junkyard. The motley crew includes an introverted mathematician (Marie-Julie Baup), a very extraverted contortionist (Julie Ferrier), a human cannonball (Dominique Pinon) and the group's matriarch (Yolande Moreau), among others. Bazil tells his story and asks his new "family" to help him get revenge on the two munitions companies that manufactured the land mine that killed his father and the bullet that is still precariously lodged in his forehead. What ensues is part heist film and part slapstick comedy.

While the use of physical comedy and mime have always been present in Jeunet's work, it is clear from the start that Micmacs is very heavily influenced by classic silent comedies like Chaplin's Modern Times and Buster Keaton's The General. While the dialogue is clever, half the time it is not even necessary, as the cast is comprised of veteran performers with a talent for physical comedy. Ferrier, in particular, is captivating with the use of her body, her large eyes, her brusque speech, and her overall moxie. The villains (played by André Dussollier and Nicolas Marié) are absolutely brilliant as the hateable/laughable arms dealers. Villains in these sorts of films are so frequently cartoonish--while Jeunet definitely paints them with a wide brush, there is enough depth to their characters to make them genuinely interesting.

For those who wonder about the title, Jeunet describes it as meaning "manipulation – and a lot of it." Literally, it means "Mikmaq non-stop," and I wonder how "Mikmaq" the name of indigenous people in Quebec, became synonymous with manipulation and trickery. And I don't want to know. Then again, I'm terrible at French, so I probably shouldn't be the one trying to parse this title. All in all, it's a cheerful, cute film with lots of great imagery and plenty of laughs, and a must for lovers of Jeunet's work.

The amount I'd pay to see this film: Just what I paid, namely $7